<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
Anti-Semitism in South America — widespread and rarely explored.
Anti-Semitism in South Amerika is an
area that is still not sufficiently researched. All the more welcome is
a recently published Brazilian anthology* that describes the phenomenon
in its frightening dimensions, mainly in Latin America.
Many Latin Americans carry official first names like Hitler, Himmler
and Eichmann. In the phonebook of Sao Paulo one can find, in all
seriousness, the name "Himmler Hitler Göring Ferreira Santos."
Again and again synagogues are attacked; the number of anti-Semitic and
neo-Nazi websites has increased alarmingly; Jewish personalities often
receive death threats. For the first time now, an anthology of 740
pages is available, in which experts approach the phenomenon of hatred
against Jews in North and South America from different angles. Editor
and co-contributor of the anthology is Latin America"s leading
anti-Semitism researcher, Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro, who has already
published numerous books on the topic. Carneiro teaches at the
University of Sao Paulo and is currently building a virtual archive
about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in cooperation with the Yad
Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. In addition, she develops urgently
needed educational materials for Brazil"s teachers — materials that
should have been available for decades.
The anthology describes anti-Semitism in Canada and the United States
as insignificant and hardly threatening, hence it is considered in
relative brevity, quite unlike the giant country of Brazil and its
neighbor, Argentina, that have the largest Jewish communities in Latin
America and are increasingly exposed to neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism.
One can"t help being reminded of the bomb attack on the Jewish
Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, in which 85 people were
killed. This attack and other incidents lead to harsh security measures
at synagogues, also in Brazil. Brazilian rabbis insist that the Iberian
culture is still marked by strong anti-Semitism, and that Spain and
Portugal who colonized the Latin American countries, deeply instilled
Christian anti-Judaism as well as racist anti-Semitism, with all its
stereotypes and prejudices in South American society.
A Luxury Edition of "Mein Kampf"
Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro states that today, anti-Semitism in Brazil
and other North and South American countries usually disguises itself
as anti-Zionism, as hatred of Israel. "But if one looks closely, it
goes against the Jews, it is nothing else but deep-seated, traditional
anti-Semitism." Especially in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, the
anti-Jewish mentality is strong and articulates itself politically.
Anti-Semitic concoctions from the Nazi era are appearing in new
editions. In Brazil itself the translation of Hitler"s Mein Kampf in a
luxury edition is selling out quickly. Since the 19th Century the major
racial theories from Germany and France were adopted in Brazil by
government circles and propagated by renowned intellectuals. "One
wanted a pure race — white, Catholic and non-Jewish."
The anthology contains an astonishing study by the historian Silvia
Cortez Silva about an icon of Brazilian culture, the writer Gilberto
Freyre, whose 100th Birthday in 2000 had been celebrated with official
pomp. In his lifetime Freyre had already been honored by many great
universities of the world — although in his classic Casa-Grande &
Senzala, ["The Mansion and the Slavehut"] he had spread the most evil
prejudices against Jews. Silva writes that Gilberto Freyre never
concealed what he was thinking about the Jews. "The way he describes
the profile and identity of Jews could not be more anti-Semitic." He
uses expressions and attributes such as blood sucker, parasite,
exploiter, ruthlessness, cunning, Jewish nose, vulture-face — to name
only a few. Silva underlined as particularly interesting that such
writing passed unheeded in the long years of its reception.
Anti-Semitic views are still popular in Latin America. In some
Brazilian dictionaries of foreign words the word "Jew" is, in all
seriousness, translated as "bad person." Even officially, the dictator
and hater of Jews, Getúlio Vargas, is still celebrated as the greatest
statesman in the national history of Brazil, though, since 1936, he had
outlawed the issuance of entry visas to persecuted Jews by secret
decree. "We know of about 10 000 rejected visa applications — and
there are still a lot more," states Carneiro. But even worse, many
Brazilian Jews were deported to Nazi-Germany.
Hundreds of War Criminals
The researcher has many anonymous letters of Brazilians with no German
background, who denounced Jews who had escaped into the tropical land.
"Brazil cooperated in the destruction of the Jews; the Vargas
government was complicit in the Holocaust — and Brazilians should
finally realize this." Vargas supported the spread of the Nazi Party
(the NSDAP) and let Nazi instructors into the country, who
indoctrinated students in German schools. "Heil Hitler" was used as
salutation. SA and SS songs were sung. In no country outside Germany,
did the Nazi Party attract more members than in Brazil. Schools, city
squares, streets and even the Plenary Hall of the Brazilian National
Congress in Brasilia are named after Filinto Müller¸ the
notorious head torturer, chief of the political police of Vargas.
Rather late, in 1942, the dictator Vargas broke with Nazi Germany, in
order not to remain on the loosing side of WW II, also under pressure
from the United States; he then even declared war against Germany. In
the anti-Semitic Argentina the Nazi collaborator Juan Domingo Peron,
even today still no less popular than Vargas, took his time and broke
with Nazi Germany just four weeks before Germany"s capitulation. How
after 1945, he permitted the organized entry of hundreds of war
criminals into the country, is well documented and well known.
Even after the war, anti-Semitic policies were continued in Brazil.
Carneiro describes in her classic O Antisemitismo na Era Vargas how,
even in 1949, Jews were again denied entry visas by secret decree with
the argument that these Jews are survivors of the camps, mentally
disturbed people, in whom Brazil has no interest. Brazil"s people of
German descent played no small role in this. Thousands of them shared
the Nazi enthusiasm, went to Germany, took part in war and destruction
of the Jews and returned to Brazil unshorn after 1945, where they
continued to cultivate Nazi improprieties. Only now, much too late, one
tries to track these people down. Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro accuses
Latin American intellectuals, including the Portuguese winner of the
Nobel Price for Literature José Saramago, of promoting a new
anti-Semitism by comparing the actions of Israel against the Palestinians
with the Holocaust, which is absurd, and she observes that Brazil"s government
is much more pro-Arabic than pro-Israel.
The Case of Stefan Zweig
But had the great Jewish writer, Stefan Zweig, not found refuge in
Brazil even under dictator Getúlio Vargas? Of course, in order
to give the appearance of an unprejudiced, anti-racist nation, certain
Jews were allowed into the country: Those that had deposited a high
amount of money at the Banco do Brasil, or those from whose image the
nation would benefit. The Jewish journalist and biographer of Stefan
Zweig, Alberto Dines, revealed the background: "This visa was a
precious thing for every Jew who wanted to escape from Europe. And
Stefan Zweig just made a deal with the Vargas government — he wrote a
book in favor of Brazil in exchange for a permanent visa and received
this with incredible ease. Zweig was not a politicized man, he closed
his eyes to many things. He invented a paradise." The book, Brazil — A
Country of the Future, while totally out of touch with reality, is
still a world bestseller, curiously enough, a classic of Brazilian
literature. Auf course, not a word can be found about the atrocious
Brazilian anti-Semitism under the dictator Vargas.
*) Luiza Tucci Carneiro: O
Antisemitismo nas Americas. Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 2008.
Copyright: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 11th, 2008. Used with kind permission.
Translated from the German by Fritz Voll.